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Thursday, September 24, 2009

3 men arrested in Bangkok jewel heist

AP - Tuesday, September 22

BANGKOK – Thai police on Tuesday said they had arrested three men suspected of stealing $1.7 million worth of jewelry from a Bangkok gems fair, but none of the stolen ruby or emerald jewels have been retrieved.

The three men, two from Mexico and one from Peru, were arrested Monday in the seaside town of Pattaya, 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of the capital, Bangkok, shortly after what police say was Thailand's biggest jewel heist in recent memory.

The men were accused of entering a booth at the Bangkok Gems & Jewelry Fair on Saturday and posing as customers who asked the vendor to open a display case, then distracted her and ran off with it.

The case contained nearly 100 items with a reported value of 56 million baht ($1.7 million), according to the vendor, said police Lt. Col. Pairote Rattanamanee, in charge of the investigation.

The most expensive items were a ruby and mixed gem ring worth 2 million baht ($60,000) and a variety of ruby and emerald earrings, said Sittaya Tiyasuksawat, the vendor's sister.

Police commander Chalong Sonjai said Tuesday the suspects were positively identified by the vendors and footage from security cameras appeared to show the same men at the gem fair. He also said that phone records and rental car documents "indicate that these are the people who committed the crimes" even though the gems have not been retrieved.

The vendors had earlier said the three men who entered their booth appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent and were clean-shaven, handsome, roughly in their 40s and wearing white dress shirts and dark trousers.

The suspects told a police news conference in Bangkok they were in Thailand for tourism and committed no crime.

"We don't have anything, we didn't do anything in this country," said one of the suspects, Oscar Alexis Martinez Aguirre of Mexico. "We didn't commit any crimes in this country. I don't know why they have us here."

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